I appreciate your job as Speaker is a difficult one, with nary a day’s rest. Some have likened your attempts to corral fellow Republicans akin to herding cats. Others have typed your efforts to ameliorate the wing nuts in your caucus useless the way inviting alcoholics to an open bar invites trouble. Trust me when I say, from a Democrats’ perspective, allowing certain elements in your party to dictate your message will hasten an end to your term as Speaker.
For Democrats, the wing nuttiness may have begun when writers Jimmy Breslin and Norman Mailer ran for political office in New York City in 1969, hoping to create a 51st state within the five boroughs. Nevermind how fast that city was hemorrhaging jobs, population and tax base in 1969, any idea that two authors could run a political machine and, on their own terms, was ludicrous.
Then came the President Reagan’s nomination of Robert Bork to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1987. Despite Judge Bork’s leaning’s toward the ‘originalist’ interpretation of the U.S. Constitution and his supposedly dim view on citizens ‘right to privacy’, many Senate Democrats vowed to rebuff any candidate Reagan put forward to replace retiring Justice, Lewis Powell.
Democrats succeeded in keeping Bork from the top bench though other Conservative accessions in years since have brought Bork’s interpretations with them. Nowadays, thanks to Democrats, to ‘bork’ a person is a verb, loosely defined by a public vilification, most often without facts.
Lastly came President Bill Clinton, and Republicans ‘Contract With America’. And, John, here’s where your story in Congress begins. 1994 was the year hubris passed from Democrats to Republicans. President Clinton lied. He did have sexual relations with ‘that’ woman. Still, to the public, the GOP in Congress spent more time and public money (8 years and over $40 million) trying to create negative press for President Clinton than on legislation.
Republican control of Congress in 1994 also ushered in a new Conservatism based more on moral codes than righting ledger books, with talking points and lockstep unity. Still, the Reaganesque theories of smaller government were strong in your caucus. After shutting down the government over federal spending and Medicare costs under the House leadership of Newt Gingrich late in 1995 and again in early 1996, compromise was made by Speaker Gingrich and President Clinton.
By the time Speaker Gingrich was ousted on his own terms in 1999, a more virulent strain of unified Republicans had taken hold in Congress. Your determination to take back the White House from Democrats proved successful with the election of George W. Bush in 2000. Yet from 1994 onward, a succession of Republican bluffers came to Washington, determined to use their faith or their ‘Real American’ blood and bring our nation back to greatness, all under the representative banner of the GOP.
What began in the late 1970s with the Baptist conventions to overturn Roe v. Wade and legalized abortion had, by the new century, become greater than the proxy war over abortion itself. On fronts political, economic, social and moral, it had become us against them. Some even made huge sums of money coining the term ‘culture war’ to describe how vastly different Americans were purported to be, from each other! And in Congress, the Republican machinery built to vilify any idea from the Democratic Party was well in place by 2000.
Well John, you got your tax breaks under George W. Bush. You got your roll backs on reproductive rights and welfare, while defining marriage between man and woman and a war against the evildoers in Iraq and Afganistan. With all that, Democrats in Congress did not shutdown the government. That’s not to say some Democrats in Congress werent against the war until it began to go badly for the nation. Thankfully, one of them wasn’t then Senator Barack Obama of Illinois. He was against it all along.
Bush’ Vice President Dick Cheney said ‘Reagan proved it, deficits don’t matter’ in 2002, after success in midterm elections. By the time he and President Bush left office in 2009, the nation had accrued a 7 trillion dollar deficit where there had been a surplus in 2000. By 2008, the financial collapse threatened our economy to the point our candidates for president, Senator Obama and Senator John McCain of Arizona called a temporary halt to their campaigns so each could tend their responsibilities in Congress.
Both Presidents, Bush and Obama, bailed out our nations biggest banks in 2008 and 2009 with taxpayer dollars. Though most all the money has been paid back, with interest, the nation is still suffering effects of an almost meltdown and a deficit that has grown in five years while the economic growth has sputtered slowly upward.
Well, John, it’s 2013 and the U.S. Government has been closed for a week. You blame the President and Democrats in the Senate for failing to pass a House Republican budget meant to defund the Affordable Care Act. A reminder, the ACA was duly passed by Congress and constitutionally upheld by the Supreme Court.
Mr. Speaker, I always want to give you the benefit of the doubt. When, on Friday, you said angrily ‘This isn’t some damn game!’ in reference to the shutdown of the government, I believe you.
Still, I have questions.
Was it a game as the nation racked up 7 trillion in debt under President Bush? Where were the Republican cries to hold down the debt? Where were the Republican threats to shut the government? Was it a game in 2009, when, according to GOP strategist Frank Luntz, you and other Republican leaders in Congress agreed at a dinner Luntz attended to contest every move by President Obama? Was it a game then but not now? Which is it, John?
As it stands today, the Republican Party represents a cross section of Americans whose mistrust of government has its equal in the ‘drop out society’ of the 1970s and their mistrust of Richard Nixon. Though your party has greatly benefited, you have fostered a mistrust that soon may be too great to stem.
It seems you now speak for the Tea Party and not the Republican Party. How long before they decide John Boehner doesn’t reflect their America? Since President Obama’s election, your party has garnered great support from an America who believes this nation is being led by some demi-Muslim socialist black guy. How long before their representatives in Congress decide any compromise with President Obama and Democrats is treasonous? Are we not already there?
Last year, Republican columnist George Will wrote the GOP is unafraid of bombing Iran yet is afraid of Rush Limbaugh. I understand Mr. Speaker, we have Al Sharpton, whose ability to say one thing to white people on tv and another to black people on radio is hardly ethical. For that very reason, few Democrats listen to him.
Last week, Republican Congressman Peter King claimed the obstructionist wing of your party is not Conservative, but more isolationist, whose appeal is to the lowest common denominator. To Rep. King, defunding the government is not Conservatism. He then likened the ‘Ted Cruz wing’ of your party as people who ‘live in their own echo chamber’.
John, I fear Peter King is correct. Get out of the echo chamber. You seem to be hanging out with a crowd who, not only have no interest in compromise but are also waiting for you to slip up. You may be damned, either way. As I fear your eventual replacement, I write this letter with hope for your success. My suggestion is this: tell Eric Cantor and his Tea Party wing nuts to go schtum already! With Peter King, seek out House Democrats to pass a clean budget.
Open the government.
Robert Emmet Mara has been in Baltimore since 2006. A native New Yorker, Robert came to Baltimore to do three things: work with kids, renovate houses and write a second book of fiction. Since his arrival, he has managed to do all three and more.
He has sought better oversight for his still blighted Harwood neighborhood from the city and has been asked to speak to various community association leaders on the subject of city agency relations.